Remembering His Cross in Our Pain

Pain is a part of living in a sinful, fallen world, and no one is completely immune. No doubt, some people suffer more than others, but some forms of pain are nearly universal. Who has not felt the wounds of rejection, betrayal, loneliness, and heartache? At some point, anyone who loves will experience the emotional pain of grief. Or who has not felt the pangs of anxiety and fear?

During times of pain it can appear as though our mind and feelings conspire against us, to leave is for dead in despair, but first torturing is with doubts about God’s love, care, and empathy.

I wrote the following song sometime during a severe bout with depression. I have written about this previously, but I felt as though I was in a dark, inescapable pit. I felt like a failure in every sense of the word, and God seemed light years away from me. However, God—in the person of Jesus—experienced much of the pain we feel and questions we ask, while He was rejected, tortured, then killed. 

He Is Still Worthy of Praise

Even when storms rob us of sunshine, And our laughter turns to cries; Even when our nights are the darkest, And there are no stars in our skies…

Bridge:
We look to Christ,
The Holy One who cares;
In brokenness,
We worship Him through tears…

Chorus 1:
(For) He is still worthy of praise;
He is still worthy of honor;
He is still worthy of worship;
He is still worthy of all!

(Repeat)

Even when our minds are afflicted, And questions scream with rage;
And our hearts are so deeply wounded, Feeling forsaken in some cage…

Bridge:
We look to Christ,
And bend our knees in dust.
In spite of pain,
We sing to Him with trust…

(Chorus 1)

Through loneliness and friendlessness, Through deep darkness and through sickness;
Through failure and tears, through raging fears;
Through broken dreams, and angry screams …

Through temptations, and frustrations; Through broken-hearts, and worlds torn apart;
Through death of loved ones, when grief overcomes –
Through all the loss, we remember His Cross!

Even when we face disappointments, When dreams are smashed on rocks, And we watch them sink under waters, As our hearts are crushed on the docks.

Bridge:
We bow our souls,
And cannot even speak.
We want to run,
We want to die,
Yet to our God we cry … and we seek …

(Chorus 1)

Chorus 2:

God You are worthy of praise;
You are still worthy of honor;
You are still worthy of worship;
Jesus, You’re worthy of all!
You are still worthy of praise;
You are still worthy of honor;
You are still worthy of worship;
Jesus, You’re worthy of all!
… Through all the loss, we remember Your Cross …  [1]

Jesus, You’re worthy of praise.

(Words and music by G.P)

Since then we have a great high priest who has passed through the heavens, Jesus, the Son of God, let us hold fast our confession. For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin. Let us then with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need. ~ Hebrews 4:14-16 (ESV)

__________

[1] Geno Pyse, To Worship Is to Obey: Songs of Worship & Devotion (Rochester: GP&P, 2020), 27-29.

When God Is Silent

There, perhaps, is no other indescribable anguish of the heart and spirit than the silence of God—especially for those who have experienced His love, witnessed His power, and can recount times of closeness and answered prayer.

Extended periods of God’s silence and inactivity can truly test one’s faith. Emotions can seem like a turbulent sea, with questions tormenting the mind like seemingly endless waves pounding on the shore. Dark storm clouds block out the light of the sun—and nights are ever darker still.

Such experiences are not uncommon for the people of God. The psalmist writes, 

How long, O Lord? Will you forget me forever? How long will you hide your face from me? ~ Psalm 13:1 (ESV)

My God, my God, why have you forsaken me? Why are you so far from saving me, from the words of my groaning? O my God, I cry by day, but you do not answer, and by night, but I find no rest. ~ 22:1-2

The prophet Habakkuk cries out,

O Lord, how long shall I cry for help, and you will not hear? ~ Habakkuk 1:2

The prophet Jeremiah pleads to the Lord,

Be not a terror to me; you are my refuge in the day of disaster. ~ Jeremiah 17:17

In the New Testament, although it was clearly confirmed to John the Baptist that Jesus is the Messiah, after being imprisoned he sent disciples to ask Jesus,

Are you the one who is to come, or shall we look for another? ~ Matthew 11:3

Times of divine silence, especially extended periods, causes common questions to arise:

  • What has happened?
  • What did I do?
  • Is God angry with me?
  • Will God speak again?
  • Has God abandoned me?
  • Is God trustworthy?
  • Why?

The reasons for God’s silence varies. Sometimes it is to humble us, and to remind us of our dependence on Him. If we are not careful, we can become conceited and think we are quite “spiritual”. Such pride usually lacks love.

Sometimes God’s silence is due to willful and persistent sin.

But your iniquities have made a separation between you and your God, and your sins have hidden his face from you so that he does not hear. ~ Isaiah 59:2

Still, sometimes God is silent to stretch and grow our faith. We live in an age in which feelings are exalted. Too often we lean, depend, and even put trust in our ever-changing feelings. However, our faith is to be anchored on God, His character, and His promises.

When experiencing God’s silence, what are we to do? First, we should examine ourselves. Are we refusing to confess and repent of sin (e.g., immorality, unkind words, unforgiveness, idolatry, prayerlessness, etc.)? Second, we need to remember God’s faithfulness in the past. God is unchanging. He remains faithful. Third, and this is the most difficult, we are to continue to trust in spite of our feelings and doubts.

The prophet Micah shared in such experiences, too. He writes,

My enemies, don’t be glad because of my troubles! I may have fallen, but I will get up; I may be sitting in the dark, but the Lord is my light. I have sinned against the Lord. And so I must endure his anger, until he comes to my defense. But I know that I will see him making things right for me and leading me to the light. ~ Micah 7:8-9 (CEV)

The Reality and Severity of Teen Depression and Suicide

Recently I was reading some articles about depression and suicide amongst teenagers. I was saddened to read of present statistics revealing suicide as the second leading cause of death of persons ages 10 through 24. According to a study done by the Jason Foundation, “More teenagers and young adults die from suicide than from cancer, heart disease, AIDS, birth defects, stroke, pneumonia, influenza, and chronic lung disease, COMBINED.” [1]

There are those who will snidely ask, “What do young people have to be depressed about?” The world has changed a lot since the 1980’s and early 90’s (when I was a teenager), just as much had changed then as compared to the generation(s) before mine. There have been significant paradigm shifts attacking the very foundations of truth, family, morality, etc. These shifts have created a lot of unrest and uncertainty. As technology has increased, making the world seemingly smaller, many young people are also feeling more isolated. Added to this is the problem of “cyber bullying.”

Since the shootings at Columbine High School in 1999, there has been a rise in shootings in schools, churches, and public venues. Then later, after the Twin Towers catastrophe (what is referred to as “9/11”) in 2001, there has been a heightened concern of bombings and terrorism. The uneasiness many youth feel is warranted.

Our educational system insists on teaching evolution (despite the fact science does not support this), denying there is a God, and essentially teaching we are all but cosmic accidents. All the while we are told that we matter. Adding to their (teenagers) confusion is the plurality of contradictory religions and ideologies, as well as the relativizing truth (i.e., placing feelings and emotions over logic and facts; “What is true for one might not be true for another”), but life does not work this way. What a disservice to our young people!

Many homes are no better, as many children are raised in single parent homes, or with parents (or boy/girl-friends) who are abusive (verbally, psychologically, physically, and/or sexually). Many youth are traumatized by the divorce of their parents or the loss of loved ones. Still, many children are then harassed, bullied, or isolated at their schools. Many are ridiculed—even ostracized—by students and teachers, alike, for their faith (if they have such). Added to this are the temptations of peer pressure, sex (of various kinds), alcohol, drugs, etc.

Sometimes adults minimize the stress young people are experiencing, but many of these things mentioned are major stressors even for adults, let alone young people who are still in developmental stages of life and trying to begin to figure life out! Such pressure can lead to depression. If depression is not dealt with it can lead to suicide. According to the study mentioned earlier, done by the Jason Foundation, each day in America alone 3,069 high school aged persons attempt suicide (this amounts to 1,120,185 persons per year)! These numbers do not include middle school aged persons.

There is not a single element to blame for suicide, but by and large depression is a major factor. Jason D. Thomson notes some of the common variables that contribute to the rise of depression and suicide amongst teens: “These precursors include drug and alcohol use, broken homes, economic status, race, suicidal ideation, poor self-esteem, distress, poor coping mechanisms, sexual orientation, victimization, as well as a lack of social connection and support.” [2]

Later Thomson notes one study had found “Among teens, approximately 9 in 10 teens who are suicidal display clues or warning signs to others.” [3]

Katherine Murphy gives a list of red flags to watch for: “Expressions of hopelessness or sadness, slipping school work, loss of interest in sports or other activities, weight change, and sleep disturbances (insomnia or sleeping too much) are the most common warning signs.” Murphy then adds, “Pay attention also to less clear-cut signs of depression. These include somatic complaints (such as abdominal pain or headaches), preoccupation with death (such as always dressing in black and writing about nihilistic themes), running away, truancy, sudden rages or social withdrawal.” [4]

Jason Thomson notes that there is an increased risk of suicide whenever a teen feels frustrated, helpless, and hopeless in their ability to problem solve. He gives a similar list of warning signs to that of Murphy’s, but he observes, “Depression can distort an individual’s reality and the individual then fixates on their shortcomings, failures, and disappointments.”

While the outlook initially appears bleak, there is hope in helping teens get through their depression and overcoming thoughts of suicide. In their research on teen suicide in Canada, Barbara L. Paulson and Robin D. Everall found that three factors appear to be of immense help to teens. First, the development of self-efficacy and personal worth through increased coping and problem-solving skills. Second, an increase in social support and having someone they can confide in and who will genuinely listen. And finally, feeling accepted regardless of their difficulties. The writers note that educators have a tremendous impact, for better or for worse, on teens’ psychological functioning regardless of the difficult situations they are going through. [5]

How can we begin to help our troubled youth? I used to be a youth pastor, and I can attest to the fact times have changed. Ours was not a big group, but I was surprised how many had lost friends due to senseless violence. Some students were quite concerned about potential bombings where their parents worked or shootings at their schools. Others essentially had free reign as to their wanderings, having no real stability at home.

Young people need to know they are loved and their lives have genuine significance. One of the great problems with our secular humanistic education system is its hostility toward any references to God and creation, and its firm grip on the theory of evolution (again, true science does not support this theory). The importance of this matter has to do with human significance. If, indeed, secular humanism were true, if people were but by products of this process called evolution, then we would not have real significance. Regardless what our institutions tell us. Secular humanism basically teaches humans are so great, yet here today and gone tomorrow. Honestly, where is there any significance in this?

But the Bible tells us something wonderfully different about people:

So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them. ~ Genesis 1:27 (ESV)

For you formed my inward parts; you knitted me together in my mother’s womb. I praise you, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made. ~ Psalm 139:13-14

Now the word of the Lord came to me, saying, “Before I formed you in the womb I knew you, and before you were born I consecrated you. ~ Jeremiah 1:4-5

And he made from one man every nation of mankind to live on all the face of the earth, having determined allotted periods and the boundaries of their dwelling place, that they should seek God, and perhaps feel their way toward him and find him. Yet he is actually not far from each one of us. ~ Acts 17:26-27

But God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us. ~ Romans 5:8

Our children and teenagers have significance because they were intentionally designed, “woven,” and are loved by a Creator who has made each of us in His image. Young people are not cosmic accidents or “mistakes” of their parents. Young people need to know this.

We must also help our youth through their coping and problem-solving skills. Our society is doing a grave disservice to young people by catering to their every whim and feeling. The theologian Martin Luther said it well: “Feelings come and feelings go, and feelings are deceiving.” Feelings are not one’s identity. Who among us knew and understood who we were during our elementary years? One of the areas that makes our teenage years difficult is the process of beginning to understand ourselves. Truly, for many this is a life long journey. How ridiculous that parents and teachers are pushing agendas as if young people “know” who they are based on feelings. Let time and growth develop them. However, irreparable damage can be done if we try to rush the process and “put the cart before the horse.”

Next, we need to listen. The skill of listening is underdeveloped in many of us. Ours is a society that likes to talk, to lecture, to spout out opinions—even if void of logic or sense. Sometimes, especially when youth are needing a “safe place” to confide, we need the skill to listen and the wisdom to know when—and when not—to speak. This can be extremely difficult if you are a teacher or caregiver, because such persons desire to teach and fix. However, there are times our best teaching and fixing come when we are simply listening and being present for another.

Finally, young people need to know they are accepted, valued, and loved. This does not mean we must condone their behavior, views, or beliefs. However, they need to know that they are not castaways or disposable. They need to know their lives are of value and have purpose, that they are worth protecting and investing our lives into.

Sadly, doing these things will not end the tragic reality of depression and suicide of children and teenagers. However, if we can improve on helping young people to feel loved, accepted, and of significance, then hopefully we can see the numbers of the statistics of youth suicides drastically decrease.

Notes:

[1] Youth Suicide Statistics – Parent Resource Program. (2017). Retrieved from http://prp.jasonfoundation.com/facts/youth-suicide-statistics/

[2] Thomson, J. D. (2018). Discussion Around Depression and Suicide in Teens Today. Vanguard Practices from Practitioners, winter/spring special edition, 37-42.

[3] Ibid.

[4] Murphy, K. (2005). What Can You Do to Prevent Teen Suicide? Nursing, 35, 43-45.

[5] Paulson, B. L., & Everall, R. D. (2001). The Teen Suicide Research Project. The Alberta Journal of Educational Research. 1, 91-94.

Understanding a Loved One Battling Depression

Depression. It is not simply sadness (“What do you have to be sad about?” one naively asks), nor is it a hurdle or a mesmerization (“Get over it!” “Just snap out of it!”). Furthermore, depression is not a single element stemming from a single cause. Rather, it often consists of multiple factors weaving from numerous sources.

Depression can stem from painful events, grief/loss, anger, guilt, shame, loneliness, failure, disappointment, anxiety, fear, stress, chemical imbalance, or a number of other things—sometimes built up over time. Often it is a combination of these things creating the perfect internal storm. Thus, to state aforementioned comments to a person struggling with depression is not only naive, it is also callous—inflicting further injury onto someone who is already hurting.

Depression varies from person to person, and is on a sliding scale from mild to severe. It can feel as a gray sky, a swamp, a pit, or an abyss. It can feel as a light mist to a raging hurricane. It can range from a feeling of sadness to utter despair.

Perhaps you are living with a person who suffers from depression. Admittedly, such a person can be difficult to be around. For sure, he is not the life of a party; indeed, she can be a “Debbie Downer.” But please be patient and sympathetic with such persons. As much as you might not enjoy being around them, he or she does not like feeling the way they feel either. Mind you, this does not mean to tolerate outbursts of anger, but it does mean more is going on inside of a depressed person than what you see externally.

To you, their depression might seem inconceivable. Overall, their world and reality might appear good (and, indeed, might very well be); however, their hurts, fears, feelings of failure and shame are just as real. What you say to them might be true and logical, but the lies and accusations rambling through their minds seem just as true and logical.  Inside of them storms are brewing, as thoughts and feelings mingle together, forming internal tornadoes. Bombarding his mind are accusations of his failures, highlights of every blemish and flaw, screaming echoes of regrets, and any number of lies that will make her feel unloved, unwanted, worthless, and ever increasingly isolated.

In addition to all the bewilderment (for the person who is depressed, as well as their family and friends) is when thoughts of suicide begin aiding feelings of despair. Some, who have never tasted the bitter waters from the well of despair, will accuse those struggling with suicidal thoughts as being self-centered—thinking only of themselves. Before I address such accusations, let me say this first: Thank God if you have never experienced such darkness, such aloneness, such despair! Such lofty condescending judgments reveal an ignorance, because persons speak with such certainty concerning matters they know nothing about. Like a person wanting physical pain to be taken away, persons struggling with suicidal thoughts simply desire an end to the internal anguish that can seem perpetual.

“Well, they’re not even thinking about the effects such an action will have on their family and friends!” someone will snidely say. This, by and large, is not true. Within the depressed person’s thoughts, as distorted as they might be, he truly believes he is doing his family a favor. She truly believes she will not be missed, as though the world would be a better place without her.

Please understand, I am certainly not advocating suicide or saying it is a legitimate action. One of the great aims for my blogging is to extend some hope to persons who might have otherwise lost it—to hopefully steer them away from taking their precious lives! Yet, I also want to help those who have a loved one struggling with depression to validate the deep anguish their loved one is feeling—without preaching, lecturing, criticizing, or judging them.

I have shared in previous posts about my own struggles with depression, and I plan to share more aspects of it in posts to come, as well of things that help. I wish I could say that I am now completely free of all depression, but this would not be honest. What I can say is what I experienced when my depression was at its darkest (at least, what I have experienced to this point), I would not wish upon anyone. I hope to share more in the near future about the darkness and confusion, the “diabolical logic,” and the despair that I felt. Suffice to say, for now, is I felt extremely abandoned, and that my family would be better off without me.

I admit, I still question at times what difference would it make if I were not here? Genuine, close friends are scarce. I know God loves me, but I  question that He actually delights in me (I have my reasons). I bear within me a broken, wounded, battered, and perplexed heart. U2 says it well: “And in our world a heart of darkness, a firezone where poets speak their hearts, then bleed for it.” [1] While I can pour my heart out, you could not truly understand—unless you have experienced this too. My point is this, my depression did not just happen one day. I did not just decide one day to not enjoy life. There have been constant chips and wounds spanning many years. I have been lied to, betrayed, rejected, and forsaken by some I had trusted. There are reasons for my withdrawing, skepticism, and pessimism.

I am not saying the attitudes, thinking, or responses of the persons who are battling depression are good or right. What I am saying is there are reasons—even legitimate ones—for these. The depressed person is feeling a deep inner pain—one they cannot simply go to to the doctor, take a pill, and have the infection go away in a week or two. No, it is far deeper, and much more complex, than this.

People tend to feel uncomfortable around the depressed. To be fair, it can be like walking around on eggshells. No doubt, depressed persons have a tendency to push others away—this serves more as a defense/protective mechanism. The irony of it all is this is when the depressed one needs others more than ever.

The person struggling with depression does not need you to preach to, lecture, criticize, or judge them. What they need is for you to be there, and to validate (this does not mean you have to agree with) their feelings.

In the book of Job, we read:

Now when Job’s three friends heard of all this evil that had come upon him, they came each from his own place, Eliphaz the Temanite, Bildad the Shuhite, and Zophar the Naamathite. They made an appointment together to come to show him sympathy and comfort him. And when they saw him from a distance, they did not recognize him. And they raised their voices and wept, and they tore their robes and sprinkled dust on their heads toward heaven. And they sat with him on the ground seven days and seven nights, and no one spoke a word to him, for they saw that his suffering was very great. ~ Job 2:11-13 (ESV)

Job’s friends were of great comfort to him for a week—and then they started opening their mouths, thinking they were qualified pastors, psychologists, and theologians. After this Job finally bellows, “I have heard many such things; miserable comforters are you all” (16:2).

Sometimes your love can speak volumes when you simply validate your loved one’s feelings, are present, and say nothing at all—until he or she is ready to talk.

Notes:

[1] U2 (words by Bono), “One Tree Hill,” from the album The Joshua Tree, 1987.

The Willow Tree

The Willow Tree

“Why does the willow weep?”
A child asks.
The question is ignored,
As he and his mother
Pass by the willow tree.
And but for a mere speck
Of time,
The willow rejoices,
In that someone took
The time to care.

Although I wrote this poem a number of years ago, the message remains the same. Those who are hurting (grief, depression, anxiety, loneliness, etc.) do not need anyone to fix or lecture them, but
to listen and genuinely care. They need to know they are loved and have a sense of belonging, because they probably already feel like an island detached from the mainland.

Lord, Take Me Out of the Game! I Don’t Want to Play Anymore!

There are times when a person can feel so exhausted physically, emotionally, spiritually, and psychologically that he just wants to give up. Hope seems to have abandoned him, faith seems to have left him stranded, and joy evaporated like a mist. Apathy befriends him, and he ceases to care about pleasure, fame, fortune, or even life itself. The only thing he really wants is to be pulled out of the game—for the boney hand of death to knock on his door.

Typically, I suppose, these feelings of utter depletion are a result of the constant hits in life (quarrels, stress, fear, rejection, loneliness, sense of meaninglessness, devalued, etc), and the feeling of having nothing else worthwhile to give. Sometimes such feelings can come from a chemical imbalance within the brain. There are a number of factors that can contribute to a person’s depression, death wish, and suicidal contemplations.

Such feelings affect persons from every walk of life. Like cancer, depression is no respecter of persons. It does not care about gender, color, religion, class, nationality, sexual orientation, age, etc. Perhaps as you are reading this depression has you entangled in its web. Please know that your feelings are not unique; there is nothing strange or devaluing if you are struggling. You are actually in good company with those who either feel, or have felt, the suffocation of depression.

It might surprise you to learn that one of God’s own prophets, one whom God used in incredible ways, fell into a major depression and prayed that God would take his life. After an astonishing victory and breathtaking display of God’s power, this prophet felt like a complete failure.

[Elijah] went a day’s journey into the wilderness and came and sat down under a broom tree. And he asked that he might die, saying, “It is enough; now, O Lord, take away my life, for I am no better than my fathers.” ~ 1 Kings 19:4

No doubt Elijah had come down from an adrenaline rush—he had witnessed one of the most spectacular miracles recorded in the Scriptures. Added to this, he was tired from running, he was hungry, and he feared for his life. His was a fail-proof concoction for depression.

As the chapter continues, God begins gently speaking to His prophet. Elijah is not rebuked for his depression, he is not accused of having lack of faith. Before the Lord addresses the deeper issues, He makes sure Elijah eats and rests. The physical needs were addressed before the emotional and spiritual. After eating and resting, Elijah was in a better position to hear the Lord. Note, he heard God within the quietness, not in the noise and clamor.

In a person’s depression, the voices in their head scream accusations and criticisms. The voices taunt and mock, seeking to deepen one’s sense of despair.

O Lord, how many are my foes!Many are rising against me; many are saying of my soul, “There is no salvation for him in God.” ~ Psalm 3:1-2

There may or may not be elements of truth to what is being screamed in one’s mind; that is, an individual might have failed, made a mess of things, etc. However, a person never fails so badly that God’s love, mercy, and grace cannot get him safely through. As Corrie ten Boom would say, “There is no pit so deep God’s love is not deeper still.” In the midst of the screams, the voice of the Lord will be as a “soft whisper,” bidding us to draw near to Him. Although He might bring to our attention where we have sinned or erred, His purpose is always redemptive. God’s voice will never be the one calling us a failure, disgrace, trash, etc. God’s voice will never urge a person to harm themself.

The Bible says God is our Abba [daddy], Father. A loving parent will correct—even discipline—but it is always for the ultimate wellbeing of their child. This is how God loves us.

Jesus tells us,

“For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him.” ~ John 3:16-17

I do not know who might read this. You might be a loner or the popular person; rich or poor; a worn out spouse and/or parent; a student; etc. You might feel pressed on all sides, and confused to the point of despair. Maybe you know exactly what it feels like to want to be “taken out of the game.” If possible, take some time to eat and rest. In the midst of all the voices assailing your mind with crushing thoughts, listen for His still small voice bidding you to look to Him, gently whispering His love and care for you. You are loved, you are needed, and you are of great value. If necessary, rest on the bench, but stay in the game!

The Illusionary Reality of Feelings

The French philosopher, Rene Descartes, once said, “I think, therefore I am.” There is truth to this, as his point is that his existence is proven by the fact that he could think and reason. One could not do so if he did not exist. Such logic is indisputable.

An error many of us make is thinking, “I feel, therefore it is.” That is, the way I feel necessarily reflects reality. However, our feelings truly have an illusionary factor that can be destructively deceptive if we are not careful. This is not to say our feelings are always wrong; nevertheless, our feelings are not always correct in interpreting reality. Mind you, the feelings themselves are very real, but the thoughts that lead to our feelings are not always truthful. Thus, our feelings can project an illusionary reality that is not real or correlating with the truth.

Consider whenever someone stubs his toes on furniture, the pain he feels corresponds to reality. This is no illusion, as anyone can attest who has ever stubbed a toe! Or whenever someone loses a person or pet she loves very much, the loss and accompanying emotional pain is connected to the reality of loss and grief; therefore, the pain is related to a legitimate loss. But what about when a person feels alone, unloved, hopeless, anxious, or worthless? While the feelings are quite real, do they (and the thoughts that fuel them) necessarily correlate appropriately with reality? Mind you, this is not to say that one’s illusionary reality does not contain any truth. However, our minds and emotions can work together like a biased news team, focusing on certain aspects, while jettisoning a lot of facts.

Our minds and emotions are incredibly powerful entities. This is strange, considering both are entirely non-material—seemingly non-existent; after all, neither can be handled, seen, or smelled. Neither are made up of molecules; nevertheless, these seemingly non-existent entities have the potential of erecting and enslaving persons within self-made prisons and hells. Beginning with a thought (often triggered from a hurt within actual reality: for example, an unkind word, rejection, ridicule, abuse, etc), this thought then becomes like a board. This (negative) thought is followed by another, and another—until a structure is formed. Eventually “walls” are built, with the intention of protecting; however, they actually end up becoming one’s imprisonment. While our intention is to protect ourselves, too often we isolate ourselves. In doing so, we tend to condemn ourselves, others, life, and even God Himself. The projected illusion then swallows everything that makes life meaningful—including any purposes for the legitimate pain and disappointments in life.

By nature, I have a melancholy temperament. I am introverted, analytical, conscientious, moody, and introspective. To say the least, I am not the life of a party. At a large gathering I tend to feel awkward, restless, and bored. Awkward, because I desire to fit in. Restless, because I feel as if I do not fit in. Bored, because I am too afraid to “let my hair down” and force myself to interact with those around me (for fear of rejection or appearing foolish). So my mind and emotions conspire against me. Negative thoughts (for example, “I do not fit in” or “no one wants to talk to me”) trigger negative feelings of rejection and isolation. The projected illusion is that I am isolated, rejected, and unwanted. But is this actual reality? My mind and emotions say it is, but the true reality is I am surrounded by people, in many cases persons who are friends and family who love and care about me very much.

Several years ago I resigned from a pastoral position. My family and I were betrayed and deeply wounded by some individuals. Within a month of my resignation my dad died, then several months later my mother-in-law passed. Within the next couple of years my wife and I had several family members and friends pass. Our family had to put one of our dogs down prematurely. This broke my heart in a way I had never quite experienced before. I earned my Master’s degree, but doors were not opening. During this time I felt like a failure as a minister, husband, father, friend—as a person. I felt abandoned by God. I felt as if I was a total disappointment to Him. My thoughts condemned and criticized me ruthlessly, and my feelings projected an illusion as though my mind was presenting truth. My mind and feelings equated my worth and identity with my sense of failure and abandonment.

The illusionary reality was that I was unloved by my family, friends, and God; that I was not needed, and this world would not be missing anything if I was dead. I felt extremely alone, disconnected, and trapped inside a deep, dark pit. This was the illusionary reality. But what was the actual reality? The actual reality was that I was depressed, hurting, and grieving. Although my wife and son were upset and hurt by my angry outbursts, they still loved me. While there were certain persons who, I believe, did forsake me, my family and true friends never did. Furthermore, when the light finally pierced my darkness, I realized God had not gone anywhere, but had been with me and lovingly watching over me the whole time. I did not stand condemned, but my salvation in Jesus Christ remained secure by what had secured it from the beginning—His grace and shed blood. The actual reality is faith, hope, and love had never evaporated, but continued to remain. I felt like I hated life, but in actuality it was the feelings of loneliness and inner turmoil that I hated.

But what about the projection of the world not needing me (or you, if your mind and emotions ever project this)? Most of us will not ever be called “world changers” or be remembered hundreds of years from now in history books. Yet, God places us where we are. The love (or hate) we share, and the choices we make affect those around us. We will have some who like us and others who hate us. We will be rejected by some, while others will admire us. While we will not see it, and might not be remembered for it, we never know how God will use our words and actions to influence another, who will then influence another, etc. With all this said, regardless of the illusionary reality my mind and emotions project, the actual reality is I am needed. I am not here by accident (and neither are you). God was personally involved even during my conception (see Psalm 139:13-16). The world and its communities need the philosophical melancholy to help remind them of the deeper things in life. Just as it needs the animated sanguine to remind them of the joys of life and hope; the dynamic choleric to give them a swift kick in the pants, and to remind them there is still work to be done; and the mediating phlegmatic, who reminds them to keep calm, and who reminds them of the need for peace.

Perhaps the most devastating effect of the projected illusionary reality is that it tends to hide God, seemingly taking Him out of the equations altogether. Even if the world was to hate me, my Creator loves me—so much, in fact, He gave His Son to die for me! My calling is not to be a world shaker. My calling is simply to honor God day by day, striving to love Him with all my heart, and to love others as myself. Whether this ever makes the history books does not matter. For when the time does come for me to die, I will not be giving an account to those of Hollywood, Washington, or even the United Nations, but only to God. As long as my life is honoring to Him in this life, I can be certain that my life matters and is making a difference, whether or not I can see it or feel it. This is actual reality!

Worth Fighting For

One of my favorite lines in “moviedom” is in the Lord of the Rings movie trilogy. Frodo is feeling the weight, weariness, and hopelessness of the evil bound to the ring. His friend Sam tells him, “There’s some good in the world, Mr. Frodo, and it’s worth fighting for.”

Like Frodo, the heaviness of life can weigh a person down, and all one can feel is the loneliness, hurts, evil, and despair. Despondency begins to strangle hope, and distorts one’s perception. One forgets about the sunlight and trees, as all that can be seen is a fiery sky painted over darkness, illuminating a barren land of devastation. However, Sam’s words are just as applicable to us.

When I was in the darkest parts of my depression, and despondency had sucked out of me any desire for living, I would cry out “I hate life!” But I remember during more honest times during prayer, acknowledging to God that it was not truly life I hated; rather, it was the loneliness, sadness, heartache, with the added sense of meaninglessness and abandonment. I did not so much have a morbid lust for death—I simply wanted the continual pain and despair to end. Nevertheless, the feelings of being unwanted and unnecessary were debilitating. 

Perhaps, on this day, you can relate. Maybe you are feeling defeated, as it seems to take everything within you to take another step. Are you asking yourself, “What difference does it make, anyway?” When we consider the characters in Lord of the Rings, Frodo did not have the skills of a man, the stealth of an elf, or the strength of a dwarf. Yet, his part within the mission of the fellowship of the ring was indispensable! The same can be said of Sam, an unsung hero of the fellowship. 

Dear one, maybe everything around you appears dark and bleak. I beg of you, do not give up. There is still a lot of good worth fighting for—including your life! Do not compare yourself with others, for there is no comparison. Others may be greater at this or that, but your life is essential for the purpose God created you! Even within the mundane there is design. Keep fighting, because there is still good worth fighting for, even if you do not recognize it at this moment of time!

If you have found any encouragement from this post, I would love to hear your thoughts. Blessings!

The Crucible of Taking Ownership

The issue of accountability might seem unrelated to depression, but bear with me. Shifting and deflecting blame is a universal human tendency. Most people will readily admit that everyone has faults, but owning up to personal faults is not acknowledged so willingly. The problem with blame-shifting is many people’s lives and relationships remain fragmented and broken. Only when genuine ownership and forgiveness (or repentance) take place, can healing and growth take place.

We read that the proneness to blame, versus taking ownership, occurs very soon after the first couple partook of the forbidden fruit:

But the Lord God called to the man and said to him, “Where are you?” And he said, “I heard the sound of you in the garden, and I was afraid, because I was naked, and I hid myself.” He said, “Who told you that you were naked? Have you eaten of the tree of which I commanded you not to eat?” The man said, “The woman whom you gave to be with me, she gave me fruit of the tree, and I ate.” Then the Lord God said to the woman, “What is this that you have done?” The woman said, “The serpent deceived me, and I ate.” ~ Genesis 3:9-13 (ESV)

God asks the man if he ate of the forbidden fruit. The man blames God for making the woman, then blamed the woman for giving him the fruit to eat (as if she made him eat). God then turns and questions the woman. She blames the serpent for deceiving her.

Neither person humbly acknowledged their disobedience to God’s clear instructions. Instead, they became defensive and deflected blame. One can only wonder what would have happened had they humbly confessed. Certainly there would still have been consequences, but would the world know the depths of suffering it knows? I suppose we will never know.

Modern American society encourages blame-shifting, deflection, and “victim mentality.” We want to blame our parents, teachers, the “system,” and anything else for our poor and foolish decisions. Oh, many of the hurts are real, for sure. These might, indeed, make progress difficult. However, none of these can force us to continue to make poor decisions.

Some people remain in depression, in part, because they choose to curse the day they were born, blame others for their miseries, and refuse to let go of the past in order to move ahead in the present.

Sometimes real hurts happen to persons. Dealing with this requires honesty about the pain; however, one cannot blame anyone for their own choice to refuse to get better. On the other hand, some people want to blame the “system” or others for their own poor decisions. No one else is to bear the blame if an individual refuses to put the work involved to get to where they want to be.

If you’re dealing with depression, these words are certainly not intended to add to your hurting nor are they to ignore any genuine hurts. However, take an honest inventory: are some of your woes your own doing? Regardless what others might have or might not have done, they are not responsible for your present decisions. Someone’s actions may have angered you, but you choose to remain angry or not. Someone might have deeply wounded you, but you make the choice to remain crippled or not. You might not be in a position to move ahead at this time, but no one else is responsible how you view and respond to today’s circumstances.

Hurts hurt, no doubt about it. Yet, we do not have to be defined, hindered, or paralyzed by them. To forgive, let go, and move on is each person’s choice to make alone. No one can make this choice for us. Taking ownership is difficult, but necessary. Mind you, doing so will not necessarily take away the hurt or depression; however, it will begin paving the path leading to freedom and living.

“But they don’t deserve forgiveness!” some will defy. No, I do not suppose they do. Then again, none of us do. “But I can’t forgive!” some will argue. Pray! Ask God for the willingness and help to forgive. And remember, forgiveness has little to do with others but more to do with you. Forgive, because you are worth it!

The UN-selfish Need for Self-care

In my last post, “Stranger In a Strange Land,” it would appear I despised every moment of being a pastor, but this is not the case. There were times of joy, times of seeing the Lord move in certain situations, and friendships made. There were also lessons learned that seminary did not prepare me for.

One of the lessons I have learned is the need for self-care. Typically “self” comes with negative connotations of selfishness or self-centeredness; however, there is the part of “self” that represents our personhood, that God created in His image. This part of our being ought to be taken care of.

Self-care is important, whether you are a pastor or not. It is not selfish to take necessary times to rest/relax, to say “No,” time to grieve losses, to spend with family and friends, and to spend in healthy, reflective solitude.

Our society, as well as church culture, views busyness as a virtue—a true mark of spirituality. Rest and relaxation are considered frivolous and lazy, as though God’s kingdom is dependent on us and will collapse if we dare take time to rest! I once read of a pastor who was going to take some time off. A lady quipped, “The devil never takes a day off.” The pastor wisely responded, “The devil is not my example to follow.”

Certainly the Bible condemns slothfulness and being unproductive. However, what does Jesus say? Religion often produces restless activity. Jesus bids the people:

All things have been handed over to me by my Father, and no one knows the Son except the Father, and no one knows the Father except the Son and anyone to whom the Son chooses to reveal him. Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.” ~ Matthew 11:27-30 (ESV)

There are times Jesus sends us out to minister to others. However, He also calls us to rest.

The apostles returned to Jesus and told him all that they had done and taught. And he said to them, “Come away by yourselves to a desolate place and rest a while.” For many were coming and going, and they had no leisure even to eat. ~ Mark 6:30-31

Everything we do is to be in relationship with Christ:

Abide in me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit by itself, unless it abides in the vine, neither can you, unless you abide in me. ~ John 15:4

Jesus does not call us to busyness, lighting the candles at both ends. He calls us to abide in Him. Our lives can only bear fruit by abiding in Him, otherwise we are simply spinning our wheels and wasting precious fuel.

There are many times it is not only okay, but one must say, “no.” There are individuals who will either suck the very life out of you, or else constantly have you on the go. Certainly there are occasions you must allow the lives of others to intrude (e.g., emergencies, hospitalization or loss of a loved one, someone talking about suicide, etc.). However, there are many non-emergencies that can wait until another day. For example, you get a call from a friend one night and they tell you their spouse was in an collision and is in intensive care. This is a time to drop everything to be with your friend in a crisis. Another day a friend calls because they have been having “bad dreams.” Depending on the situation, this might be appropriate to schedule time for coffee over the weekend. Still, someone might want you to get involved because their sibling is having marital problems. I would say in most cases, this would be an appropriate time to say, “no.”

Take time to grieve. Especially someone in a caretaking profession, one can be so busy trying to take care of others, he fails to take time to grieve his own losses. Instead, he stuffs his feelings and hurts somewhere within. In due time, however, (as I experienced the hard way) these will eventually cause a person to either explode or implode.

Take time to be with your family. Your spouse and children need to know you love them, and that they are valuable to you. When I was the senior pastor of a church, I was told by a lady that sometimes God will have a minister sacrifice his family for the sake of a church. This not true. No where in the New Testament is a person called to sacrifice his family for the sake of ministering to a church. As one pastor correctly advises other pastors, “If you save the whole world but lose your family in the process, you have lost it all.”

Finally, take the time for healthy solitude. Note, there is a difference between this an unhealthy isolation.  Healthy solitude is necessary time to get away from people, noise, and distractions in order to pray, reflect, and listen. Throughout the Gospels we read of Jesus numerous times going off by Himself early in the morning or in the evening to get alone with the Father. If Jesus felt the need to do this, we had better recognize our need!

I suppose there will be some who will not be convinced that self-care is not selfish. Let me ask, how will you be of any use if you are sick? When I was in the pit of my depression, I was of no use to anyone. It was not until I received help from others, then becoming more intentional about self-care, that I began of being more help to my family and others.

Take care of yourself. You are worth it, and your loved ones are worth it! By taking care of you, you can then be better at taking care of those you love and care about.